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What is the single most valuable asset that you possess as an associate in a midsize to large law firm? Your overwhelming powers of persuasion? Your winning people skills? Your sharp intellect combined with your quick wit? Actually, the answer is none of the above. The most important factor in functioning effectively is a good support staff. One of the most egregious things that you can do as a busy associate on the rise is to take their help for granted. The rule for this article is to take the time to say thank you. An incident at one of the law firms where I have worked helps to illustrate this point. “Help me help you.” Standing in front of the service window was a first-year associate who had been at the firm for about 3 1/2 weeks. All of his diligent efforts to solicit work assignments had paid off, and now he was submitting jobs for four different matters — all marked with that most helpful of designations: “Rush Job.” Larry, the duplicating staff member on duty, asked when each job needed to be completed, and the associate said with the faintest tinge of panic in his voice: “Now!!!” Larry put down his pen and said quite calmly, “Help me help you. Try to prioritize each of these jobs.” After about five minutes more of this exchange, a workable time frame was agreed upon, and the associate fled to complete the next task. He was so caught up in getting through his “to do” list that he never bothered to say thanks. This was perhaps understandable given the pace at which he needed to work, but this should never be acceptable. Larry would be spending the next 6.75 hours completing the various copy jobs; the associate could certainly take two seconds to acknowledge that effort. Imagine the chaos that would result if Larry was simply too busy to complete this work; if the proxy statement was not ready to go to the printers until the day after the deadline for filing had already passed; if the paralegal working on your case decided to provide you with only half of the exhibits that you requested; if the information technology support center decided that your e-mail crisis could wait for a week or two; or if the word processing department took the day off from formatting the brief that needed to be filed in the 2nd Circuit appeal that will make or break your reputation at the firm. Make no mistake, the stellar education that we received at law school is a very valuable asset, but so is the help that we receive to get the winning brief out of the door. My colleague Peter is a fifth-year associate. It is no exaggeration when I tell you that he is always busy with something. One morning, I saw him engrossed in a conversation with his assistant, Michelle, about her daughter’s ballet recital. I found this scene quite amusing: I knew that Peter did not know the first thing about ballet and also that Peter had been working for hours on an asset purchase agreement that would be signed later that day, and I assumed that the only other event that could have possibly registered with Peter over the past 24 hours was the result of the last game of the National Basketball Association finals. I asked him about his newfound interest in grand pli�s a few days later, and he responded, “Are you kidding? I have asked Michelle to help make edits on draft after draft of the agreement over the last 12 hours, and she did a great job. The least that I could do was take five minutes to ask her about something that was so meaningful to her.” It is precisely that ability to appreciate the people that help him to be efficient that makes Peter a good associate. My friend Natalie gave me a welcome piece of advice a few months ago: “Mark Secretary’s Day on your calendar. Do not miss the opportunity to show your secretary that you realize how important she is to your being able to accomplish things.” A good relationship with your secretary is priceless; fostering one should be just as important to you as developing effective ways to communicate with partners and senior associates, or as important as efforts to find good mentors for yourself. Your secretary can be a wealth of information about the law firm and how to actually get things done. Try to find the best way to work together so that you can benefit from this type of knowledge and experience. This is not always a simple task, especially when you are learning the basics of law firm practice and tackling a range of challenges. But trust me, it is well worth the effort. A great deal of the responsibility for establishing a good working relationship stems from how well you are able to communicate the type of assistance that you need. Also keep in mind that at many firms a secretary may be assigned to work with three or four attorneys, so try to organize the timing of your projects well, and give your secretary as much advance notice as possible to allow for the balancing of multiple tasks and schedules. The reality is that law firm practice does become more manageable over time. However, this will be a lot easier if you help others to help you, and it will be a lot more enjoyable if you appreciate and acknowledge the help that you receive along the way. Sharon C. Brooks is an associate in the New York office of Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

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